Yesterday we slipped lines from Flamenco Island Marina – on the Panama City & Pacific Ocean side of the isthmus – at 6am. About 20 hours later we reached Shelter Bay Marina on the Caribbean Sea side.
It doesn’t usually take 20 hours to get across, but we were delayed by a lack of pilots to guide us through, so we had to wait on a buoy in Lake Gatun for about 6 hours. We did take this opportunity for some crocodile watching though!
First you enter Puerto Balboa, Panama City’s port area and entrance to the canal, under the Bridge of the Americas. Not far beyond is the first set of locks, the double Miraflores Locks.
We rafted up with Sanya and Qingdao, and went up with Interlink Nobility, since they generally won’t do a full lock cycle just for three little yachts; even though the tropical climate does produce a lot of rainfall (we had a couple of thunderous downpours during our transit) and the Chagres river is very well managed to retain and supply it all.
After the Miraflores Locks comes a short reach and then the single stage Pedro Miguel Locks.
Now we are 26 metres above sea level, all the way through the Culebra Cut, under the Centennial Bridge and into Lake Gatun.
On the other side of Lake Gatun are the three-stage Gatun Locks. Again we went down just in front of another large cargo vessel, then finally under the (not yet complete) Atlantic Bridge.
The whole canal is really an engineering marvel, excavated by the French and the US and opened in 1914. There is a new, larger set of adjacent locks nowadays, opened in 2016, but we went up through the original ones. Because the water supply is so important to the canal operation, the rainforest surrounding the canal and Lake Gatun is almost undisturbed and the number of birds and other wildlife (like mosquitos!) are plentiful.
Now we have a couple of days to relax before the next race to New York starts on 2nd June!